Chicago’s prolific theater scene would not be nearly as vibrant or successful without the marketing prowess of Broadway In Chicago’s VP of Marketing, Eileen LaCario and her dedicated social media team. Broadway In Chicago’s use of social media has been more than effective, and has been ground-breaking in an industry that until recently was known for marketing through traditional channels. In our interview, LaCario stressed the importance of using social media, not only to market to your audience, but also to learn from your audience.
A: We started what we call an online-active program early on. We were one of the first theatrical organizations to really embrace it. At the time most producers and other theatrical organizations thought it was a vehicle for the young and we had done a lot of did research that showed it was trending both for the young and old. It really started to ramp up 3 years ago when we added the iPhone app. We were the first live theatre organization to create an app specifically for Broadway In Chicago.
I was having a phone chat one night with my son, David, who was a programmer for the gaming industry at the time. I told him I had to get up early for one of our annual think tank marketing sessions the next morning and needed to reserve some brain power to come up with ideas. He suggested coming up with a mobile app for Broadway In Chicago. I said, “How would we do that? I can’t just come to the meeting and have an idea. I have to figure out how to do it,” and he said “I could do it.” And I said, “Ok, you’re on.” So basically he created the application for us and then went on to do the same for other theatres around the country.
Q: So it sounds like you really got it early on that Social Media was not just a fad, it was a marketing tool that was here to stay.
A: We’re lucky because we have a young marketing team and also I’m the kind of person who wants to do new things – I’m always looking for what no one else has done and how it can be effective for us. At the same time it has to be effective and impact ticket sales in order to make it worthwhile for us.
Q: What was your “ah-ha moment” with social media?
A: I’ve had many aha moments about the internet – one was when my daughter and I were in Aspen and trying to figure out where to go for lunch. She went on Yelp and said, “We should go here.” Normally, I would have called my friends, but she found us a great little haunt and she did it in 10 seconds.
Q: How effective has social media been for Broadway In Chicago?
A: We have nearly 24,000 Facebook fans – over 11,000 on Twitter. Our blog gets about 4,000 visits a month. Plus we power a blog called Off-Broadway In Chicago, which is part of the ChicagoNow family of blogs and we have an e-blast communication group of approximately 600,000, as well as our iPhone app. And we have our own YouTube channel as well as a mobile club, which is close to 10,000 [subscribers].
Q: Do those numbers translate directly into sales?
A: For some reason now that we do have this direct click-through on the internet everyone is basing everything off that, and while I think that’s important, I think impressions are equally important just as they are in print or TV. I think that people sometimes feel that Facebook is not driving their sales enough but they are definitely creating a world of understanding that you would not normally be able to get with your customer. I think the same tenet applies that you need at least three to four impressions before you get somebody to buy something.
Q: Have you given up more traditional methods of marketing in favor of social media?
A: If you could give up one for the other wouldn’t that be lovely but it just doesn’t work that way. It’s just like when TV first came out. If they could’ve given up print or radio that would be one thing but they just had to expand their advertising. And I think the same happens between SM, the internet, and what we call mainstream marketing. As far as I’m concerned internet advertising is becoming mainstream so therefore, we just have to figure out what drives sales and the presence of Broadway In Chicago and our shows best. For different shows sometimes it’s different things but the internet is always in the mix.
Q: How do you measure that success? Can you attribute sales specifically to your use of social media?
A: Oh yeah. Absolutely. In each one of our avenues, whether it be twitter or Facebook or e-blasts, we’ll scatter promotions that show if we’re driving sales or not. For instance, we have a program on Facebook called $25 on the 25th where you can get tickets to one of our shows for $25 on the 25th of the month. We don’t discount much but we do obviously have times that we want to. We also wanted to create a loyal Facebook following so we came up with a monthly program where people would know that the discount was going to be out there but they wouldn’t know in advance what show it was for or what dates. So it became a great driver both for our existing FB community and also for people becoming friends on FB because you have to be a FB friend in order to get that. So therefore it not only drove sales, it also drove our community.
Q: Do you feel social media has made a dramatic difference in your ability to reach your audience?
A: Social media gives you the opportunity to get in tune with your customers. It’s the best focus group you could ever have. It opens the door to your customer and the community you serve on a regular basis and has become a huge tool for customer service. People feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts on SM faster than writing a letter these days and we’re really quite happy about that because we get to know their thoughts and we get to share resolutions in full view of the full community as opposed to it being a secret that we take care of our customers.
Q: What was the most unusual experience you have had as a result of your use of social media?
We started our 25 on the 25th program in November and didn’t realize that our second time out would be the 25th of December, which obviously was Christmas Day. My team was still in the building phase. There were lots of questions about it and people were joining and trying to get in and there was a huge amount of activity so our staff members had to literally be in constant communication on Christmas day trying to help people who didn’t understand it. So one of our biggest challenges was making sure that the customer service issues got handled and making sure that my staff was also able to enjoy their Christmas Day. It was extremely successful and it continues to be to this day.
Q: Do you feel a responsibility to your social media ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ to keep it interesting and current?
A: There’s never enough staff – SM is a challenge because you have to stay on top of it all the time – people expect you to do that. I don’t think we have anything else like that. People don’t expect you to be offline Christmas day. They expected someone to be able to be there.
Q: Sounds like you have a very dedicated social media team working for Broadway In Chicago.
A: I feel part of our success is this integrated marketing team we have – the integration means that everyone sits at the table – whether you’re the person selling the tickets or the person doing the PR or placing the ads or managing SM. One thing we know for sure is that it all feeds into each other. I also think often people use outside firms for SM and I find this makes them one step removed from the audience that’s generating the collective buzz. There are a hundred ways to do what we do but I feel when there’s an integrated approach and we’re all on the same team it makes a huge difference.
Q: Do you feel social media allows you to connect more directly with the performers in your shows as well as your audience or is it strictly an outreach tool for you?
A: We use it to bring our performers into the conversation early on. In most every show where normally you would do interviews, we do the same things with SM. We bring the actors into our conference room for a day to live tweet and hope they all do a guest blog at some point – we work with them regularly.
Q: In general, do you feel you have to guide the conversation with your posts or does it have a life of its own?
A: I think the conversation has a life of its own but I think people become followers and friends because people want information – so our job is not to manufacture the conversation, but to provide information that allows people to have a richer conversation.
Q: Do different businesses have different ways of benefiting from social media? How does the theatre differ from other business applications?
A: I think in theatre we’re lucky. We have interesting stories to tell and rich content so that made it easier for us to get out there earlier and tell the story we wanted to tell. We came with a built-in set of followers. People will always ask me what my favorite part of the theater is for me. And they’ll think it’s the stars or the actors or the directors or whatever, but you know it really is the audience for me. There’s something magical about sitting in a room with 1000 people from diverse backgrounds from the youngest to the oldest sitting Republican next to Democrat – it doesn’t matter – they all have an amazing experience and they all go on a journey together and they all come out with different ideas and a conversation that is changed from when they went in. To me, early on I got that that’s what the internet is. They join whatever that community is and there may be 10 people, or 100,000 people in that room sharing ideas. It’s the audience that counts. The social media community is an audience.
Q: What advice would you give to people who are just jumping into the social media world?
I just think have fun with it. There’s an attitude shift that you have to have to embrace it and have fun with it. There’s no way to make it regimented. It has to be organic – so the only way to get involved is to just jump in and do it. You learn from people – from seeing other people social network – they’ll tell you–they’re so willing to share what you’re doing wrong and what you’re doing right. As long as you honor the community you serve you can only move forward.
Interviewed by Suzie Galler, Muse Entertainment, LLC